'Sucker Punch': Amped Up

The girls look striking and sexy while fighting robots and dragons in short skirts and piled-on makeup, sauntering into battle, guns in one hand and samurai swords in the other.

Sucker Punch

Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-03-25 (General release)
UK date: 2011-04-01 (General release)

Zach Snyder made his mark with slick, graphic, borrowed imagery. Following his remake of Dawn of the Dead, he directed 300 and Watchmen, full of grandly cartoonish figures set against simultaneously harsh and vibrant backdrops. In these two films, based on comic books, Snyder showed a talent for transferring stories from page to screen, taking arresting still frames and making them move.

Sucker Punch is Snyder's first feature based on his own material: the story is his, the script co-written with Steve Shibuya. It begins when a villainous father-figure sends 20-year-old Babydoll (Emily Browning) to an asylum. Here she meets a tough-but-sexy quartet of chicks: like Babydoll, Rocket (Jena Malone), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung) are all unjustly incarcerated. When they vow to escape together, their ensuing adventures are presented as ongoing fantasy sequences taking place in Babydoll's imagination.

While Sucker Punch's story isn't based on any one source, Snyder is still more of a borrower than a creator. The film includes ideas from Alice in Wonderland, Return to Oz, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Kill Bill, among others. An unnamed wise man (Scott Glenn) offers counsel as a Kung Fu master, and even the musical stings are derivative, as the soundtrack mostly features covers of songs as opposed to the originals. Neither are the visuals always novel. In one sequence, set in a mashed-up version of World War II, Snyder invokes the shaky-camera aesthetic made popular by Paul Greengrass in Green Zone and the Bourne movies, and recently used by Jonathan Liebesman in Battle: Los Angeles.

That's not to say that there's nothing original about the film. Each of the fantasy sequences takes place in a different world, so that Snyder and his crew can conjure burning zeppelins flying over bombed-out cities, mechanical soldiers that bleed steam, monorails rocketing towards outer-space cities, and at least three different types of robots. These images are beautiful and powerful, and -- unlike those in his comic book films -- don't require a bright color palette to achieve their intense emotional effects. They do a lot with drab.

Snyder's ability to tell stories through pictures is most notable during a near wordless prologue. The scene is moody, dark, and expressive, and one of the most effective parts of the film. Unfortunately, Snyder introduces that prologue via a few lines of clunky voiceover. Let's just say, words are not his strength: the narration references angels who are "as fierce as any dragons," and other juvenile descriptions.

While the rest of the film's dialogue isn't quite so overbearing, it does include awkward moments. Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino), a therapist at the asylum, uses an Eastern European accent straight out of Rocky and Bullwinkle for no express purpose. The wise man speaks in clichés, spouting inspirational catchphrases such as, "You've got to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything." And repeatedly, the music is similarly trite: Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" underscores Babydoll's similarities to Alice, and the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind" plays after a scene concerning lobotomies.

With so much emphasis on what's obvious and superficial, it's not surprising that the film doesn't delve deeply into characters. Though we follow five girls, two -- Amber and Blondie -- are mostly props. Sure, they all look striking and sexy while fighting robots and dragons in short skirts and piled-on makeup, sauntering into battle, guns in one hand and samurai swords in the other. Just don't ask why they're there or what they'll do if they ever gain their freedom.

The movie often brushes the girls' stories aside in favor of major battle sequences. Amped up and exciting, these images have all of the trademarks of Snyder's tricked-out style, slow motion at times and blended to look like long tracking shots at others. They're set to loud music. They take place in far-off worlds and they're incredibly fun. Much as the girls believe, escape into fantasy is its own reward.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.